24 September 2017

« Boulanger, je donne mes invendus »

I happened upon this article in the Nouvel Observateur about a baker in Brittany who has found a way to deal with the problem of having left-over baked goods in his shop at the end of the business day. It was published in 2016. Here's a link to the article in French. I also found some photos of the baker and his bakery at various places on the web to post with the article — thanks to all concerned. The bakery in Quimper is called Au Bon Vieux Temps.

I don't especially like the term "food waste" — in France it's called le gaspillage alimentaire. But I do know that I don't like to think about how much food the world wastes every day, month, and year.

I’m a baker, and I give my unsold baked goods to people in need
It’s the least I can do
By José Louiset, baker

"France will become the most proactive country in Europe". It was in such terms that the adoption of a set of legal measures designed to reduce food waste was announced recently. It was a step in the right direction that José Louiset, owner of two bakeries in the town of Quimper in Brittany, didn’t need to wait for. He had been donating his unsold bakery products since 2005. Students, young people with money problems, or “forty-somethings” who can’t manage to make ends meet at the end of the month are some of the many people who gather in front of José Louiset’s bakeries before they close up in the evening. Here’s this baker’s story.

It all began with a remark my wife made to me one evening as we were closing up shop. She saw people rummaging through our trash cans looking for food.

She wondered out loud why we didn’t just separate our unsold products from our garbage so that people didn’t have to rummage through the trash to find something to eat. It was a small gesture, in our eyes.

So we began giving away sandwiches, pastries and fresh bread to people we now call "our regulars".

I give away my unsold products every night

As long as everyone does not have enough to eat, I will not throw away any more food that is still edible and I will condemn all those who do. As Coluche* said so well: "Today, we no longer have the right to allow people to be hungry or cold."

"Even before I opened my business in Quimper, I already donated food to the "little sisters of the poor" in Normandy, where I had a bakery. That was twenty years ago. I can only welcome the new legal measures adopted by the National Assembly, though I wish France had not waited so long to address the issue.

Since 2005, I’ve been gathering up all my surplus food products at the end of the business day, and packing everything in little bags that I can hand out to people in need.

Sandwiches are favorites

People’s preferences are fairly clear: first are the sandwiches, then the croissants and other pastries, and finally the baguettes. The sandwiches can be a full meal, while the other items are things that will do in a pinch when you are really hungry.

Despite all my efforts to have something to give to each person who comes to the bakery, sometimes the most asked-for items run out first and then our “regulars” end up quarreling among themselves. I try not to interfere too much but I pay more and more attention to make sure there is something everyone. It’s not always easy.

In 2012, I was happy to be able to describe my approach to the problem with the local press. It was a way to encourage my fellow merchants to join in.

Coverage by the media brought us a few more people than we had been used to seeing. One evening, I counted as many as 60 people in all and I said to myself, "Oh la la! What have I started?"

Every baker has a surplus

Since then, the crowds have thinned out some and we have about thirty people who come to the shop every night. Which is, as you can understand, already a lot. So sometimes, I make a few extra sandwiches over the course of the afternoon, knowing full well that they will not all be sold, but also that they will not go to waste.

Of course, I have to be careful not to lose sight of the fact that I have a business to run. I don’t make any more or less food more than I always have. The people in need that I donate food to can’t afford to buy my products, but I hope they will become customers one day.

Ending up with unsold baked goods at closing time is a fact of life in this business, which is based on offering fresh products every day. I prefer to make two or three extra loaves of bread rather than have to tell a customer who comes at the end of the work day that all I have left is one stale baguette. As any baker can tell you, it is impossible to end the business day having sold absolutely everything and not having a few items left unsold.

Congratulations and thank-you notes

Word spread quickly in Quimper and art students became “regulars” alongside young, low-paid working people. I think that's a good thing. After all, when you're a student, the streets are not paved with gold and it's pretty clever to figure out ways to get a free meal.

We don’t see many people abusing the service. Some neighborhood people who are not really needy have come by once or twice, but they haven’t continued. They soon understood what we were all about. We are not a food bank or charity but we think it’s best to give priority to those who are really in need. Especially since they are so grateful.

Giving is very gratifying. Not only do we feel more useful to the world we live in, but we also get back expressions of affection and thanks that are very touching.

Some even write letters to thank us and encourage us to keep going. This note, for example, touched us greatly:

"Sir, I am a student and am living in Quimper for a year. A month ago I learned that your bakery gave out food in the evening at 7:30. I'm a little ashamed to say this, but one Saturday I was hungry and finding your shop was such a relief. I'm 22 years old and doing commercial studies. I work all week, but as a trainee my salary isn’t enough for me to live on. That's why I feel ashamed. So as not to feel like I was asking for charity, I talked to the young woman who works in your shop on Saturdays about helping her clean up in the evening. I hoped it would be a way I could repay you for your kindness. If you refuse I will wait politely outside the shop because I do not want to be hungry any more, but I won't feel good about myself. Thank you."

An act of solidarity that doesn’t really cost much

Our food donations have been seen favorably by our customers and the others in the neighborhood, and of course having a good image can’t be bad for business.

Our sales volume has not increased, and nor has the number of customers we serve, but our relationship with our customers has changed for the better. They congratulate us, encourage us, and ask themselves how they might get involved.

Even though she’s on the other side of the world, our daughter sends us links to articles about us that she finds on the internet. She is proud of her parents and it warms our hearts to be role models for her by doing what we are doing. It doesn’t really cost us much.

My only wish today is that all business people in France will join in. After all, it’s the least we can do.


*Coluche, who died in 1986, was a comedian and actor who founded the Restos du Coeur food bank in France.

23 September 2017

Carrefour part à l'assaut

Carrefour is the Walmart of France, I guess you could say. It's one of several chains of hypermarchés (superstores) in France, along with Auchan, Leclerc, and Géant. Even SuperU and Intermarché have hypermarchés in some places. Usually, the big stores have a boulangerie in them. Here's an article from 2015 about Carrefour's efforts to compete directly with the traditional boulangeries (bread bakeries) in France.

Carrefour declares war on traditional French bread bakeries
The huge Carrefour retail chain has updated its bread-making methods to appeal to today’s tastes. In all, Carrefour sells 50 million « baguettes ordinaires » and 20 million « baguettes rustiques » in its 200 or more French “hypermarkets.”

Approximately 200 Carrefour hypermarchés, or 90% of the stores in the chain, have set out to win over the traditional bakery’s clientele in France, using recipes from days of yore to make bread in the traditional style. Perhaps the best example is the chain’s baguette rustique, which is superior in quality to the baguette ordinaire. Carrefour bakes nearly 20 million baguettes rustiques annually, and more than double that number — some 50 million — of its baguettes ordinaires. They are made and baked in Carrefour hypermarchés by 2,200 bakers in every part of France.

There are no "hypermarkets" in Saint-Aignan.
In the town of Villeneuve-la-Garenne, north of Paris, in a brand new hypermarché, 17,000 baguettes rustiques are sold every month, as well as 20,000 baguettes ordinaires, for, respectively 90 cents and 46 cents apiece. That’s revenues of more than 300,000 euros annually just for those two products. "Water, yeast, salt, natural sourdough leavening — everything must be handled with great care," explains the store’s bread baker as he prepares a mid-afternoon batch of twenty or so baguettes rustiques. He has been baking bread at the Villeneuve-la -Garenne store since it opened a year and a half ago. To qualify for his permanent position as a baker at Carrefour, he earned a Certificate of Professional Aptitude (CAP) in bread and pastry baking, as well as a Certificate of Professional Studies (BEP), both at a school in the Paris suburb of Pantin.

40,000 tons of flour per year

After they’re cooked, the baguettes are displayed on old-fashioned wooden self-service racks as well as upon request from an employee behind a display case for fancier breads, such as poppy-seed or whole-grain. "We designed the bread wrappers so that they are transparent and allow customers to see the product while at the same time letting the bread  breathe, thanks to micro-fiber paper," says Bruno Lebon, director for fresh products at Carrefour-France.

As to the flour used, the supermarket chain has chosen to buy from only twenty select French mills. "The vast majority of the mills are small businesses that we work with long-term — some of the relationships go back more than 20 years," Lebon explains.
A Paris street scene

Ordering 40,000 tons of flour annually, Carrefour is a major outlet for French mills. "For each of our breads we have defined precise specifications. For example, for our baguette rustique, we use a flour made for French tradition breads that is certified Label Rouge or CCP (Certification de Conformité Produit). For the baguette ordinaire, we use a conventional T65 flour" [recommended for breads, pizza crusts, etc.], he says. "The Carrefour company has long understood that bread is an important part of daily life for French consumers and that we cannot neglect the quality of the bread we sell or we'll risk seeing our customers defect to one of the 32,000 traditional bakeries that are in business throughout France."

22 September 2017

Où vont les invendus des boulangeries ?

Yesterday I was thinking and speculating about what French bakeries do with fresh bread and other baked goods that they can't sell by the end of the day. I found a couple of articles on the web. This one is from the regional newspaper called Ouest-France and carries the dateline Falaise, a town in Normandy [link to article in French]. It's basically a "puff piece" but I guess that's appropriate when you're talking about bread and pastries. Invendus in this context means unsold products (baked goods).

What do bakeries do with their unsold bread?

As non-profit
lead the fight
to reduce the
amount of food
that is wasted
every day,
some French bakers
have come up with
clever ways
to avoid throwing
surplus baked good

sinto the trash.
And some haven't.

Some bakers sell their surplus bread, some donate it, and some, reluctantly, discard it. Pastry chefs face no such dilemma because of laws regulating their trade. "We are restricted by the requirement that our products must stay refrigerated," says Sandrine Chapuis, from the Les Ducs pastry shop. "We are not allowed to give away unsold pastries." Bakers in pastry shops organize their work so as to waste as little as possible: "We prepare only as much as we can sell. Experience guides us in estimating what will fly off the shelves and what won't. We prefer to bake extra batches over the course of the day, as needed, rather than having to throw things out at closing time. Often, in the evening our display cases are empty."

"At the Aux Armes de Falaise bread bakery, we end up throwing out our surplus, and it's a real shame," says Jacky Quéron, the manager. "If a charitable organization would send someone to collect the unsold bread, we would be glad to donate it."

Other establishments have found viable solutions: "I give our unsold bread to customers who come by in the evening. They feed it to their animals," says Carole Goux at the Fournil de Guillaume bakery. "Pastries made with cream, butter, and eggs are either are thrown out or given to our employees, if they want them." Françoise at the Goudier bread bakery sells sacks of stale bread to people for their animals. "Charitable organizations don't do collections on the days my shop is open, so I throw away the rest."

At Christine and Gérard Chauvet's bread bakery, some of the unsold loaves are used to make bread pudding, which is then sold in the shop. The remainder are donated to food banks, whose volunteers come to collect the shop's unspoiled surplus goods every Tuesday evening.

21 September 2017

Supermarket bread

The ingredients are: wheat flour (origin EU) 56%, water, sourdough leavening, wheat gluten, salt, yeast, malted wheat flour — farine de blé (UE) 56%, eau, levain de seigle, gluten de blé, sel, levure, farine de blé malté. That's what is printed on the wrapper.

Yesterday I bought bread at the Intermarché supermarket across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher. I had seen it advertised in the store's weekly flyer, and there it was. It's worth a try, I thought. I've bought bread there before, and at SuperU — pain aux noix (bread with walnut pieces in it), pain de campagne ("country-style bread" because the village baker doesn't make it), pain de mie (sliced sandwich bread, which the village baker also doesn't make, as far as I know). But not often.

I didn't look at the ingredients in the Intermarché bread until I got it home and spent time examining the package. I was pleasantly surprised. No preservatives, gums, or chemical emulsifiers are listed. I learned too that the bread is baked in the store daily (cuit sur place tous les jours), which obviously means that the dough is not made by the people who bake it. It's probably brought in frozen, but I can't swear to that.

The village baker is an artisan boulanger, which means he makes his own dough every day and bakes it himself. The ingredients listed on his bread wrappers are flour, yeast and/or sourdough, salt, and water. Of course, it doesn't say what flour or flours are used.

The Intermarché bread is on sale at a special price right now. If you buy three baguettes, you get two for free.  The price? For five baguettes, you pay 2.50€. Compare that to the baker's price of 1.10€ per baguette, or 5.50€ for five. I think the supermarkets — SuperU in Saint-Aignan has similar bread at similar prices — are really going after the local bakers. There's also a new chain restaurant over in Noyers called Patàpain that specializes in bread, other baked goods, pizzas, and salads. That's more competition.

This is a tricked-up picture. It's the same baguette four times.

As I've said before, people's preferences in bread are very personal and subjective. A lot of older people around here grew up eating baguettes ordinaires, which are, like this supermarket bread, what they call pain industriel in France. It is softer and whiter than what now is called pain de tradition and doesn't have the same flavor. But it's what many bread-buyers want. This supermarket bread is much more in the traditional style, but it's still industrial. And to tell the truth, it's pretty good. We ate one of the loaves yesterday and the other four went into the freezer.

20 September 2017

Il n'a pas réfléchi...

Yesterday I talked to the woman who has been delivering our bread every week for a couple of years now. It was her last tournée (delivery run). I told her we were very disappointed with the baker's decision to end the service. We've been customers since 2004, but we're more likely to buy bread elsewhere now. The bakery is bound to lose a lot of customers.

Bertie the cat and Tasha the puppy don't seem to understand what all the commotion is about.

"He didn't think this through," Véronique said, candidly, about the baker's decision. "Other customers have been telling me the same thing you're saying. They don't see themselves making a special trip down to the village center just for a loaf of bread. They'll buy bread at the supermarket in Saint-Aignan or Noyers, or at one of the other bakeries that they drive by when they go out to do their grocery shopping." I think that's what I'll end up doing too. The only other businesses in the village center are a café-newsstand-tabacco shop, a hair salon, and a post office.

Véronique said she has had 88 regular stops along her route this year, and that, like us, the people who live in those houses have mostly been buying a baguette or two — or some other bread — every time she comes by. It seems like that would be profitable for the boulanger. Maybe he's a proud man who thinks the bread he makes is so good that people will just drive to his shop every day for a fresh loaf. I'm afraid I won't. I'm too busy to take the car out that often just for a loaf of bread.

I made stuffed tomatoes yesterday.

The baker's letter makes it plain that he will still deliver bread and other baked goods to people who can't drive or walk to the bakery. He especially wants, his letter says, to continue the service for elderly people. But they will have to sign up and then phone in their orders. Until now, the "bread lady" drove up, blew her horn, and you went out and bought whatever you wanted out of her van. You could also place a special order for things like croissants or sweet pastries, and she'd bring them on her next visit. I hope people who depend on the service might be able to put in standing orders for deliveries on a regular basis and not have to telephone the bakery every few days.

Here's the letter we got in our mailbox.

We have plenty of freezer space right now, so we can buy three or even six baguettes at a time, cut them up, and freeze them. We already do that on a smaller scale because our deliveries were cut back to just three times a week last year, and we often buy two or three baguettes at a time. We try to remember to take bread out a couple of hours before lunchtime every day so that it's thawed, and then we heat it up for four minutes in the oven. If we need to, we can thaw bread quickly in the microwave using a special setting for that purpose. It works really well.